Honda S2000, the iconic retro roadster

In Car Reviews, Honda by Jonathan Smith

Sports car fan Jonathan Smith takes a trip down memory lane by borrowing one of the last Honda S2000 roadsters produced. Here he discovers whether the iconic design is as good now as it seemed a decade ago.

 
Sports car fan Jonathan Smith takes a trip down memory lane by borrowing one of the last Honda S2000 roadsters produced. Here he discovers whether the iconic design is as good now as it seemed a decade ago.

Like a small girl’s hair ribbon, the road stretches out in front of the diminutive white roadster – an inviting sight ready to be consumed. It kinks and twists its way between steeply banked hillsides.

Only a few sheep watch as I let out the clutch on the nine-year-old white Honda S2000 and the illuminated rev counter indicator sweeps around a wide arc above the speedo reading… 7,000, 8,000 rpm and it’s still rising.

This is one of the amazing aspects of Honda’s then answer to the Z4 and Boxster – red-lined at no less than 9,000rpm the four-pot engine was the most potent production 2-litre then made.

The S2000 was, in fact, Honda 50th anniversary present to itself. Designed by its F1 engineers, the naturally aspirated VTEC unit won no fewer than four International Engine of the Year awards.

With classic, unflamboyant lines, a quick-folding electric hood and bullet-proof build, it soon carved out a reputation as a proper driver’s car at an affordable price.

  • Jonathan Smith drives the Retro 2008 Honda S2000 11
  • Jonathan Smith drives the Retro 2008 Honda S2000 15
  • Jonathan Smith drives the Retro 2008 Honda S2000 10
  • Jonathan Smith drives the Retro 2008 Honda S2000 9

Sure, there were those who were unnerved by its tail-out rear-drive handling. Others reckoned it separated the men from the boys.

As the owner of two consecutive S2000s for seven years from 2005, I was happy to belong to the second category.

The thing is, the S2000 was a ‘pure’ sports car. Maybe not as pure and simple as a stripped out Caterham Seven because it was relatively civilised and quite comfortable. But pure in the way that a Boxster is, ie no heavy folding metal roof, no air-scarf to warm a chilly neck and an absence of artificial driver aids.

But how would it feel almost a decade on? I borrowed one of the last ever produced versions, with a mere 40,000 miles on the clock, from Honda’s heritage fleet and drove it through sunny Yorkshire to find out whether it still sparkled with the same magic.

  • Jonathan Smith drives the Retro 2008 Honda S2000 5
  • Jonathan Smith drives the Retro 2008 Honda S2000 3
  • Jonathan Smith drives the Retro 2008 Honda S2000 4
  • Jonathan Smith drives the Retro 2008 Honda S2000 6
  • Jonathan Smith drives the Retro 2008 Honda S2000 7
  • Jonathan Smith drives the Retro 2008 Honda S2000 2
  • Jonathan Smith drives the Retro 2008 Honda S2000 1

As the revs flew and I reached for the tiny stubby, steel-topped gear lever to shift through the ratios, I was reminded of the slickness of that short-throw change. Ultra quick, losing just a small percentage of the engine’s impetus. Though a four-cylinder is never quite as silky as a six, this is a close-meshed symphony that suits the Honda’s whole no-nonsense approach to a sports car.

It feels unburstable as the perforated steel accelerator is floored. Brakes are servoed but the pedal still needs reasonable pressure to slow the progress before a tight bend approaches.

Inside the cabin it’s more compact than I recall, but it’s comfy with red leather seats that hug. There’s just enough legroom for a six-footer and the windscreen appears quite upright by today’s standards.

The ride is surprisingly compliant over the smooth tarmac but the odd undulation or bump tends to kick the tail out in a somewhat awkward fashion. A twitch of the wheel and close ratio steering rack fetches it back into line.

Acceleration was considered pretty impressive back around the turn of the century – 0-60mph in 6.2 seconds was going some. Today it’s close to being sluggish even by hot hatch standards. But with the hood down, wind in your hair and the background sound from 238bhp working hard, statistics are irrelevant and emotions are everything.

It still corners tidily with an almost complete absence of roll and you remember to balance the steering with the throttle. More care is needed in the wet, though. No electronic safety nets other than traction control and ABS.

As an everyday car the S2000 is unusually practical as two-seaters go. There’s a decent sized rear boot…enough space for a weekend’s luggage. And the cabin is snug and comfortable with efficient air con and a deep locker situated high up between driver and passenger. It even has a quality sound system and cd player.

All of which is probably why so many buyers are hunting for good used versions right now, and the prices are on the increase. Top grade, low mileage examples are fetching up to £20k.

Sadly when the global recession hit in 2008, the S2000 design was already nearly a decade old and there was little motivation among Honda’s big wigs to reinvest in a replacement for the ageing star. The cash went instead towards high economy, small cars and hybrid power.

My last S2000 eventually made way for 3.0 litre Z4, and then a Boxster 981. With hindsight maybe I should have kept it…


Car reviewed: 2008 Honda S2000 Edition 100 Acceleration 0-62mph 6.2 secs Top speed 150mph Fuel Economy combined 28.2mpg CO2 emissions 236g/km Engine 2.0litre, 240ps, DOHC VTEC engine Transmission 6-speed manual

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About the author
Jonathan Smith

Jonathan Smith

An experienced award-winning motoring journalist. Jonathan Smith has written for national daily newspapers including the Daily and Sunday Express and many regional papers as well as international websites. He specialises in first drives and real-life car tests.

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2008 Honda S2000
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